Archive for November, 2009

Rip Tech’s Hewitt for losing already? Not just yet, I say

Iman Shumpert handles the ball against Dayton. (AP photo)

Iman Shumpert, who made four turnovers. handles the ball against Dayton. (AP photo)

About now, you’re expecting me to rip Paul Hewitt for losing to Dayton in Puerto Rico. But here’s where I throw the ol’ changeup and say: Losing to Dayton is not a bad loss.

Dayton is good. (Indeed, the Flyers were ranked higher and were favored by a point.) Dayton is expertly coached by Brian Gregory, whom I’d have preferred Georgia had hired over Mark Fox, who managed to lose to Wofford on Tuesday, which was a bad loss. And Tech, as talented as it is, is going to need some time to coalesce.

Yes, this assumes it will coalesce, and after some dud seasons with loaded teams — 2002-2003 with Chris Bosh remains the not-so-shining example, with 2006-2007, when a team with four players who would work in the NBA managed to lose 12 games, not far behind — there’s cause to wonder if this will be any different for Hewitt. I’m willing to extend the benefit of the doubt. But I’m not willing to extend it …

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Another Uga is gone, and I understand the sense of loss

Was this not the most handsome of creatures? (AJC photo by Pouya Dianat)

I ask you: Was this not the most handsome of creatures? (AJC photo by Pouya Dianat)

When Uga VI went to that great puppy playground in the sky two summers ago, some folks wondered why such a fuss was made over his passing. “It is,” they sniffed, “just a dog.” And I thought to myself: Er, no.

I’m not a Georgia fan — and here we pause for all Tech backers to say, “Oh, really? — but I’ve been a fan of the Ugas since first I laid eyes on one. It was a rainy October night in Lexington, Ky. The year was 1976. Georgia was playing the Wildcats at Commonwealth Stadium. My girlfriend (now my wife) and I were sitting in the UK student section. We wound up watching less of the game — Georgia won 31-7, Ray Goff throwing a long touchdown pass to Gene Washington — and more of Uga III, who was patrolling the sideline.

We loved his sweater. We loved his proud little walk. We loved him. Indeed, on my first trip to Athens — it was the summer of ‘77, and at age 21 I’d been dispatched on the old …

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What the Falcons need: Lots more O, less “Oh, no”

To borrow from those old Overstock.com commercials, it’s all about the O now. If they’re going to make the most of what remains of this season, the Falcons have to score more points.

They’re 12th in the league in scoring this season, averaging 24.6 points. They were 10th last season, averaging 24.4 points. That’s not enough of an upgrade for an offense that kept everyone and added Tony Gonzalez. Judging on total yards, it has been no upgrade at all. The Falcons ranked sixth in the league in yardage last season, averaging 361 yards; they’re 14th now, averaging 343.

The Falcons have scored 30 or more points twice in nine games. They scored 30-plus points five times in 16 games last season, and that was with a rookie quarterback and a new feature back and no Tony Gonzalez.

Sixty percent of the Falcons’ payroll is devoted to offense, which makes sense. Michael Turner, Roddy White and Gonzalez are Pro Bowlers, and Matt Ryan was the 2008 offensive rookie of the year. But Turner was …

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Why Georgia Tech and the ACC need Clemson to win

That Spiller guy does one of those Spiller things. (AJC photo by Brant Sanderlin)

That Spiller guy does one of those nifty Spiller things. (AJC photo by Brant Sanderlin)

The ACC is above rooting for anything except a Carolina-Duke final in its basketball tournament (heh, heh), but the conference can be excused for breaking out the orange tiger paws this weekend. Because the ACC needs Clemson to oppose Georgia Tech in its championship game.

Through four installments, the ACC title game has been a raging dud. It has already moved from Jacksonville to Tampa, and the relocation hasn’t helped. Some 53,000 tickets (of 65,000 available) were sold for last season’s game between Virginia Tech and Boston College, and roughly half went unused. Next year the game is moving again: To Bank of America Stadium in Charlotte, where the potential lurks for some chilly weather the first Saturday in December.

Already the ACC championship has given us The Worst Game Ever Played — Wake Forest beating Georgia Tech 9-6 in 2006 on a rainy day with no touchdowns scored and a …

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The soaring Hawks: From worst to first in 4-1/2 years

Josh Smith with another Smoove move. (AJC photo by Curtis Compton)

Here's another Smoove move. (AJC photo by Curtis Compton)

The Hawks won their 10th game of the nascent season Wednesday night. In 2004-05, this franchise managed 13 victories over 82 games. A team once so far down it had to improve to get lousy is now, with the same coach and same power forward, tied with Phoenix for the NBA’s best record.

Said Mike Woodson, the coach in question: “I’ll never forget those 13 wins. I’ll never forget walking into the locker room and seeing those faces, knowing we couldn’t win many games.”

We knew the Hawks would improve. When you’re 13-69, you can get no worse. But did anyone expect the Hawks to get better in quite this way?

Jamal Crawford didn’t. A pro since 2000, he saw those Hawks firsthand. Did he foresee that woebegone bunch becoming the team that has become the league-wide talking point of the 2009-10 season? “I’d be lying if I said I did. You knew they’d get better. You just didn’t know it would be that fast.”

Five years sounds like a …

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Live from the Hawks: Even John Hollinger is impressed!

Get off to a 9-2 start and you'll have a lot of friends. (AJC photo by Curtis Compton)

Get off to a 9-2 start and you'll have a lot of friends. (AJC photo by Curtis Compton)

We’ve had some fun with our Facebook friend John Hollinger of ESPN.com. We’ve noted more than once that he picked the Hawks to win 31 games in 2008-2009 — they won 47 — and declared their bench “a FEMA disaster zone.” (It was actually pretty good.) More recently we’ve noted he predicted the Hawks will slide from those 47 victories to 44.

Well, fair’s only fair. And if we we tweak Big John for his less-than-glowing appraisals, we must also recognize him when he says something nice. And here it is: In his first power rankings for ESPN’s Insiders (link requires registration), Mr. Hollinger has the Hawks No. 1.

If you’re counting, that makes the third set of ratings that puts these Hawks at the top.  Hollinger’s ESPN colleague Marc Stein and John Schuhmann of NBA.com made the same call earlier in the week. (Chris Mannix of SI.com is the contrarian: He has the Hawks No. 2 behind Phoenix.)

With …

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5 reasons Paul Johnson isn’t going to Notre Dame

1. He’s a little too much like Charlie Weis. Meaning: He’s blunt, and he can’t be coached in the gentle art of public relations. That works in Atlanta, where there’s one daily newspaper, but might not in South Bend, where the college team is covered by the Chicago papers in addition to the South Bend folks. Notre Dame is going to want a charmer this time around, someone who can schmooze with Regis about the big game. PJ has never heard of Reege, let alone Kelly.

2. Notre Dame isn’t just a program; it’s a TV show. Meaning: Appearances matter. NBC might not be thrilled about the prospects of airing a team that runs the football 83 percent of the time. (Understand: I admire  Johnson’s offense. But I’m not a network programmer.)

3. Notre Dame cares about recruiting rankings. Johnson famously does not. The subway alumni wouldn’t like it if their adopted team didn’t show up in Rivals’ top 10. (Understand: I’m with Johnson on this one, too. Recruiting rankings are overblown — ask …

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Bradley’s Buzz: UGA’s going to a bowl, but which one?

Gerogia's last trip to the Chick-fil-A was yummy. (AJC photo by Brant Sanderlin)

The last trip to the Chick-fil-A was yummy. Like a peach milkshake. (AJC photo by Brant Sanderlin)

The good news: Georgia is bowl-eligible. The not-so-good news: Shreveport still has a bowl. And, according to Matt Hayes of Sporting News Today, the Independence Bowl is where the Bulldogs are bound. (To face Iowa State, per Hayes.)

The better news: Four other bowl projectors see Georgia headed elsewhere. Stewart Mandel of SI.com has Georgia in the Music City Bowl against Boston College. Bruce Feldman of ESPN.com likewise tickets UGA for Nashville, but to oppose Florida State. Feldman’s colleague Mark Schlabach (who used to be my colleague) has Georgia coming to Atlanta for a Chick-fil-A date against Clemson. And CBSsports.com shows Georgia paired with East Carolina in the Liberty Bowl.

What this all means: Nobody knows. We’re 19 days from Bowl Selection Sunday, and the projected field for Georgia hasn’t been narrowed much at all. If you’re counting, the five projections show …

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The Hawks rank No. 1 in the NBA. Yes, the Hawks

Win, win, win: It's getting to be a habit for these Hawks. (AJC photo by Curtis Compton)

Win, win, win: It's getting to be a habit for these Hawks. (AJC photo by Curtis Compton)

Before Monday’s game, someone mentioned to Mike Woodson that his team, wonder of wonders, had just ascended to the top of Marc Stein’s NBA power ratings on ESPN.com.

In case you missed that, let me repeat it: The Atlanta Hawks are, at least for this week, regarded as the finest basketball team in the best league in the world. The … Atlanta … Hawks.

“That’s pretty nice,” said Woodson, smiling as he spoke. And Woodson, as you know, is frugal with his smiles. But think about where this franchise and this coach have been, and where they are now: From 13-69 in 2004-2005 to No. 1 after Week 3 in November 2009. (And not just according to ESPN. The power ratings by John Schuhmann of NBA.com likewise have the Hawks at the top. Can the BCS be far behind?)

“I didn’t know that,” said Josh Smith after being informed of his team’s new lofty perch.

“It’s just Week 2, though,” counseled Randolph Morris, …

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Falcons’ Smith gets to prove he’s not just Mora the same

Mr. Feisty now needs to be Mr. Fix-It. (AJC photo by Curtis Compton)

Mr. Feisty now needs to be Mr. Fix-It. (AJC photo by Curtis Compton)

Flowery Branch — Not to bring up a depressing precedent, but Jim Mora was 17-8 after 25 games as Falcons coach and 9-14 thereafter. Mike Smith is 16-9 after 25 games, his Falcons having lost three of four.

At issue now: Can Smith do what Mora conspicuously could not, which is right a team going wrong?

These Falcons can still make the postseason. They can also miss the playoffs and finish without that forever-sought second consecutive winning season. This season can go either way now, and it’s the head coach’s job to make it go his way.

The Falcons go to New Jersey for a game Sunday against the Giants, who are likewise 5-4 but are coming off a bye. For the first time under Smith, the Falcons seem to be dealing from weakness. They lost a game in Charlotte they should have won. The prized tailback has a bad ankle. The prized quarterback is in a funk. The famous kicker can no longer kick.

Mora had Plan A. Indeed, …

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